The UB Men's soccer team, coming off a sub-par 2000 season, looks towards the strength of their seniors to lead them through 2001.
The Bulls, who finished 6-10-2 (0-5-0 in the MAC), will depend on four returning seniors to fill the tremendous gap left by eight graduating players. This will be one of the youngest teams in recent years for the program. The Bulls have recruited seven freshmen and have six sophomores on their roster.
Bulls head coach John Astudillo seems intent on integrating these young players quickly into the fold.
"Inexperience is going to hurt us, but we can't use that as an excuse for too long," Astudillo said. The head coach added that he expected that the team, after a few games, could overcome its youth and become competitive in the conference.
For 2001 the Bulls are led by returning senior-midfielders Joe Peplinski and Bill Norberg, as well as defensemen Kevin Pitra and Matt Yeates.
Also returning for the Bulls in 2001 are three juniors. Goalkeeper Brian Wozniak, Geoff Thompson (named 2000's most improved player) and Jason Seymour have all been with the program since their freshman year.
Joining them will be three more junior transfers, Dan Wielechowski, Mike Peplinksi, who will play alongside his older brother Joe, as well as Jenton Esworthy who scored the winning goal against Army last Sunday.
Thirteen freshmen and sophomores round out the rest of the squad, and Coach Astudillo admits that turning these players into a cohesive unit will be one of the major challenges of the season.
"We need to take time with the young players, especially the freshmen," he said. Astudillo expressed his faith in the young players, saying he saw promise in their ability, and that they had made a contribution already.
"We also need to work with some of the returning players who didn't get a lot of time last season," he added.
The young Bulls will be tested with stiff competition this year. Games to keep an eye out for this season will be against longtime MAC rival Akron, who play the Bulls at home on Sept. 21.
"Akron has already tied National Champions Connecticut this season, so you know they're a serious team," said Astudillo. " The University of Kentucky will also be a tough team to beat."
When asked how far Coach Astudillo thinks his squad can go, he answered, "Even in a conference like ours, we never say die."
He added that although the road might be shaky at first, he expects the team to constantly get better and stronger.
"My job is to improve the team, throughout the season."
He also claims that even if no major breakthroughs occur during the season, he foresees one at the MAC Tournament in November.
"Every team expects to get better as the season progresses. By the end of the season if we haven't improved, then something is wrong. We've proven in the past that we are a strong Tournament Team," Astudillo said.
UB opens at home with the Bulls Fall Invitational on Saturday. They play Central Connecticut, and then Siena on Sunday. The tournament will be held at RAC field and both games have a start time of 2:30 p.m.
"The Central Connecticut game will be tough, but I think you can expect a team of a lot of surprises," Astudillo said when asked about his home tournament.